House of the Dragon is leading its characters to a precipice.
There’s a question of succession brewing on the horizon: while King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) is in good health, he won’t always be, and there’s some doubt over should be his heir. A number of different Targaryens have a claim to the throne, from Viserys’ daughter Rhaenyra to his brother Daemon, or indeed his cousin Rhaenys’ children.
It’s another complex Westerosi family saga, but one that perhaps could become a little difficult to keep track of – especially if, occasionally, you find yourself wondering how each of these characters will relate to Game of Thrones’ dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen.
Here, then, is your guide to the Targaryens and all the other major families that recur through House of the Dragon. However, because a lot of these details start to constitute spoilers pretty quickly, the article is written for a more casual fan audience – someone who has seen Game of Thrones, and wants to understand House of the Dragon, but wants to avoid book spoilers. We will, however, update this piece as we go along and the Targaryen family grows (and what constitutes a spoiler changes).
The House Targaryen family tree
Here’s the Targaryen family tree as it stands at the beginning of House of the Dragon. Most of the major players are, as you can see, related to one another.
Jaehaerys I Targaryen marries Alysanne Targaryen, his sister. They have thirteen children, but Jaehaerys – who came to be known as the Old King by the end of his 55-year reign – outlived almost all of them.
With no clear heir, and recognising that he’d likely soon die, Jaehaerys assembled a council of the Lords of the Great Houses, mediating a succession battle before it began. 14 possible heirs attempted to lay claim to the throne, but the two with the strongest claim were Jaehaerys’ two oldest grandchildren: Rhaenys (Eve Best), daughter of Aemon, and Viserys (Paddy Considine), son of Baelon.
Under different circumstances, Rhaenys would have had the strongest claim to the throne, as the oldest child of an oldest child. Her cousin Viserys, child of the king’s younger son, had a lesser claim – but the Lords of Westeros chose to elevate him to the throne (despite, perhaps, his unsuitability to it) because he was a man and Rhaenys was a woman.
The question of succession was settled at the Great Council of 101, nearly 180 years before Game of Thrones began. Some decades later, a similar question began to swirl in the minds of onlookers to the court: despite pushing his wife Aemma (Sian Brooke, playing another Targaryen cousin/wife) through seven attempts at childbirth, only Viserys’ daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) survived into adulthood.
Officially, Viserys’ heir was his younger brother, Daemon Targaryen. Doubts as to his suitability for throne grow – he’s a loose cannon, and there are fears as to whether he’d maintain the era of relative peace and prosperity enjoyed under Jaehaerys and Viserys.
In the first episode of House of the Dragon, Aemma has a child – a son – but died shortly afterwards. Her son died too, leaving Viserys grief-stricken – and furious when he learned Daemon had been celebrating the death of the ‘Heir for a Day’, more concerned with his own fortunes than the King’s loss.
Viserys dismissed Daemon, elevating Rhaenyra to be his heir – causing some consternation amongst the Great Lords, and to Daemon swearing revenge…
Who are the Valeryons?
The Valeryons are another ancient house, with a history that stretches back as far as the Targaryens. They’re both from Old Valeria (you can see how “Valeryon” traces its etymology to “Valeria”) and some claim that the Valeryons settled in Westeros even before the Targaryens did. Typically, they’re a seafaring family, controlling vast naval fleets and often serving on the King’s small council as Master of Ships.
House of the Dragon introduces Corlys Valeryon, a sailor and traveller renowned for his famous nine voyages – from Westeros to Essos to Yi Ti and back again, in effect the Marco Polo of his day. These feats earned him the nickname of Sea Snake, and he’s a powerful political ally (or potentially rival) to King Viserys.
Corlys Valeryon is married to Princess Rhaenys, Viserys’ cousin – known by some as the Queen Who Never Was. Their children, Laena and Laenor, have Targaryen blood, and therefore a claim to the throne as well – which is something Corlys is keenly aware of himself.
In the years after Viserys’ reign, House Velaryon’s fortunes shifted, at times more powerful and at times less so. During Robert’s Rebellion (the uprising lead by Robert Baratheon, Jon Arryn, and Ned Stark), the Velaryons allied themselves to the Targaryens – and, when that goes poorly, eventually find themselves a comparatively minor House sworn to Stannis Baratheon.
Who are the Hightowers?
Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) served for many years as Hand of the King, first to Jaehaerys as a young man, and then subsequently to Viserys when he ascended to the throne. His daughter Alicent (Emily Carey) was a close friend of Viserys’ own daughter Rhaenyra, and the bond between the two houses was – initially, at least – strong.
The Hightowers pledged their support to the Targaryens during Robert’s Rebellion, and as a result enjoyed considerably reduced influence during the Game of Thrones era. There are only occasional references to them during the series: Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) was once married to a Hightower daughter; Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) was almost married to a Hightower; Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) was the daughter of a Hightower.
Who was the Mad King?
The Mad King was Aerys II Targaryen. He ruled from 262 AC to 283 AC, around 160 years after House of the Dragon began and about 15 years before Game of Thrones begins.
A cruel and paranoid King, he was eventually killed by Jamie Lannister, and succeeded by Robert Baratheon (who in turn was succeeded by Joffrey Baratheon, Tommen Baratheon, Cersei Lannister, briefly Daenerys Targaryen, and eventually Bran Stark).
Aerys had a number of children, amongst them Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Viserys (Harry Lloyd, who died in the first series of Game of Thrones) and Rhaegyr (who was, it eventually turned out, Jon Snow’s father).
Aerys II was the great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of Viserys I.
How does Daenerys Targaryen fit into this?
Daenerys is Viserys’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter, with nine generations passing between House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones.
Of course, whether Daenerys is a direct descendent of Rhaenyra, Dameon, the Valeryons, or indeed some other branch of the Targaryen family tree is technically a spoiler, revealing who exactly will take the throne after Viserys – and who will win the Dance of Dragons…